Food Activist Bryant Terry

Cookbook author and food activist Bryant Terry appears March 1 and 2 at Washington University. photo by Sara Remington

       For most people, food is just another part of the day—something consumed on the go or casually at their kitchen table. But for an inspired few, food isn’t only a necessity—it’s a daily opportunity for physical and emotional nourishment, a communal connection.

    Cookbook author and food activist Bryant Terry is one those people, and he’s made it his mission to help create access to healthy, sustainable food in every community, regardless of its average income or geography. Terry will be appearing at Washington University for a lecture and cooking demonstration March 1, and will sit in as a guest judge for the University’s first North v. South Champion Chef Competition March 2.

    A resident of the San Francisco Bay area, Terry is the author of two cookbooks, Vegan Soul Kitchen and Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen. He is also a fellow of the Food and Society Fellows Program, a national project of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, whose goal is to ‘create sustainable food systems that promote good health, vibrant communities, environmental stewardship, worker justice and accessibility for all.’

    Terry attributes his own passion for food first to his grandparents who inspired him to grow, prepare and appreciate good food while he was growing up in Memphis, Tenn. As a graduate student in history at New York University, Terry became aware of the political, social and environmental issues surrounding food. He went on to pursue his interests as a student at the Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City.

    Now he travels the country in hopes of raising awareness about the importance of universal access to sustainable food sources and the perils of industrialized farming. He often speaks on college campuses. “I did more than 80 speaking engagements last year,” Terry says. “I love speaking to college students, because I feel like I am catching them at just the right moment. They are excited to learn and ready to shift their old habits. They are ripe for resisting the prevailing way of doing things.”

    Which, to Terry, refers to our nation’s deteriorating relationship with food. “There is an ethos in other parts of the world that fresh, good food is the building block of a community. In America, thanks in part to industrial agriculture, that has been replaced with a way of eating that focuses on convenience. That has had a negative impact on public health and the environment,” he says. But it wasn’t always that way, he adds.

    “Things have changed for the worse in the past three or four decades,” he says. “But if we work together and help people realize the moral and environmental importance of eating good food, we can get back to where we were.”

    Unfortunately, says Terry, low-income areas traditionally have been hardest hit by the food devolution. “Often the worst food is the most accessible in lower-income areas,” he says.  In neighborhoods where convenience stores and fast food restaurants outnumber farmer’s markets and grocery stores, it can be difficult for residents to make healthy food choices. “But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Terry insists. “I’ve met so many individuals and organizations in my travels working hard to solve these very issues.”

    And while high-profile names, including First Lady Michelle Obama, have thrown their support behind the cause of healthy eating, Terry believes it’s the average citizens who can best effect change. “Mass movements are created by people on the ground. Michelle Obama’s recent campaign against childhood obesity is a good example,” he says. “She certainly has the ear of the nation, and she can play a role in galvanizing people and spreading information. But if we are going to see an overhaul in our food system, in our relationship with food, the environment and each other, it will be because it’s what the people on the ground want.”

    For more information on Terry’s appearance at Washington University, call 935-7098.